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THE figure descended the great stairs,
steadily, steadily; always verging, like a
weight in deep water, to the black gulf at the

Mr. Gradgrind, apprised of his wife's
decease, made an expedition from London, and
buried her in a business-like manner. He
then returned with promptitude to the
national cinder-heap, and resumed his sifting
for the odds and ends he wanted, and his
throwing of the dust about into the eyes of
other people who wanted other odds and ends
in fact, resumed his parliamentary duties.

In the meantime, Mrs. Sparsit kept
unwinking watch and ward. Separated from her
staircase, all the week, by the length of iron
road dividing Coketown from the country house,
she yet maintained her cat-like observation
of Louisa, through her husband, through her
brother, through James Harthouse, through
the outsides of letters and packets, through
everything animate and inanimate that at
any time went near the stairs. "Your foot
on the last step, my lady," said Mrs. Sparsit,
apostrophising the descending figure, with the
aid of her threatening mitten, "and all your
art shall never blind me."

Art or nature though, the original stock
of Louisa's character or the graft of
circumstances upon it,—her curious reserve did
baffle, while it stimulated, one as sagacious as
Mrs. Sparsit. There were times when Mr.
James Harthouse was not sure of her. There
were times when he could not read the face
he had studied so long; and when this lonely
girl was a greater mystery to him, than any
woman of the world with a ring of satellites
to help her.

So the time went out; until it happened that
Mr. Bounderby was called away from home
by business which required his presence
elsewhere, for three or four days. It
was on a Friday that he intimated this to
Mrs. Sparsit at the Bank, adding: "But
you'll go down to-morrow, ma'am, all the
same. You'll go down just as if I was there.
It will make no difference to you."

"Pray, sir," returned Mrs. Sparsit,
reproachfully, "let me beg you not to say that.
Your absence will make a vast difference to
me, sir, as I think you very well know."

"Well, ma'am, then you must get on in my
absence as well as you can," said Bounderby,
not displeased.

"Mr. Bounderby," retorted Mrs. Sparsit,
"your will is to me a law, sir; otherwise, it
might be my inclination to dispute your kind
commands, not feeling sure that it will be quite
so agreeable to Miss Gradgrind to receive
me, as it ever is to your own munificent
hospitality. But you shall say no more, sir. I
will go, upon your invitation."

"Why, when I invite you to my house,
ma'am," said Bounderby, opening his eyes, "I
should hope you want no other invitation."

"No indeed, sir," returned Mrs. Sparsit,
"I should hope not. Say no more, sir. I
would, sir, I could see you gay again!"

"What do you mean, ma'am?" blustered

"Sir," rejoined Mrs. Sparsit, "there was
wont to be an elasticity in you which I sadly
miss. Be buoyant, sir!"

Mr. Bounderby, under the influence of this
difficult adjuration, backed up by her
compassionate eye, could only scratch his head
in a feeble and ridiculous manner, and afterwards
assert himself at a distance, by being
heard to bully the small-fry of business all
the morning.

"Bitzer," said Mrs. Sparsit that afternoon,
when her patron was gone on his journey,
and the Bank was closing, "present my
compliments to young Mr. Thomas, and ask him
if he would step up and partake of a
lamb chop and walnut ketchup, with a glass
of India ale?" Young Mr. Thomas being
usually ready for anything in that way,
returned a gracious answer, and followed on its
heels. "Mr. Thomas," said Mrs. Sparsit,
"these plain viands being on table, I thought
you might be tempted." "Thankee, Mrs.
Sparsit," said the whelp. And gloomily fell to.

"How is Mr. Harthouse, Mr. Tom?"
asked Mrs. Sparsit.

"Oh he is all right," said Tom.

"Where may he be at present?" Mrs.
Sparsit asked in a light conversational manner,
after mentally devoting the whelp to the
Furies for being so uncommunicative.